TOPEKA, Kan. — A prosecutor alleged in federal court Thursday that an Army infantry soldier charged with distributing information about building bombs is a Satanist who plotted to overthrow the U.S. government, while his attorney said he's only an internet troll caught "spouting off" online.
Jarrett William Smith, a 24-year-old private first class stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, is accused of providing information about explosives last week to an FBI undercover agent on the encrypted messaging service Telegram. He also is accused of threatening to burn down the house of a far-left-leaning "antifa" member.
Smith pleaded not guilty Thursday to two charges in a grand jury indictment of distributing explosives information and a third charge of making a threatening interstate communication. U.S. Magistrate Judge Angel Mitchell ordered him detained until his trial. The threat against the activist, listed in the indictment only as "D.H.", was transmitted from Kansas to Michigan, although it wasn't clear where the house is located.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Mattivi said during the court hearing that Smith planned to overthrow the government, with attacking a news organization as a first step. An FBI affidavit said Smith suggested to the undercover agent targeting an unidentified major news organization with a car bomb, and CNN reported that it was the target, citing two sources familiar with the investigation.
The affidavit said that Smith told another FBI agent before his arrest last week that his goal was to create "chaos." Mattivi said Smith told the agent he distributed explosives information "for the glory of his Satanist religion" — something prosecutors have not said previously.
"Mr. Smith has thought through a very specific plan for overthrowing the government," Mattivi said in court.
The FBI affidavit alleged that Smith discussed a plan to kill "antifa" activists and described how to build a bomb that could be triggered by calling a cellphone. It accused him of posting on Facebook that he was interested in traveling to Ukraine to fight with a paramilitary group known as Azov Batallion, which Mattivi cited in arguing that he should not be released from government custody.
The FBI undercover agent asked Smith if there was anyone in Texas to target for "fire, destruction and death," and Smith reportedly mentioned "Beto," an apparent reference to former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mattivi also said that in a Telegram chatroom in August, Smith discussed "hunting for feds in your area" with three other people. But Mattivi didn't elaborate further on the alleged plot to overthrow the government and offered few details about Smith being a Satanist, other than saying he liked "black metal" music designed to attract people to Satan.
Asked about both allegations during a break in the hearing, Mattivi declined to provide additional details, saying, "Come to the trial."
Smith's defense attorney, Rich Federico, also declined to comment about the description of Smith as a Satanist planning to overthrow the government.
In court, he argued that Smith was being prosecuted for forwarding on information available to anyone with "Google and 10 minutes." He said he himself was able to find manuals on bomb-building easily with a Google search.
Federico described Smith as a young man "having a difficult transition in his Army life." He entered the Army from Conway, South Carolina, in 2017. He completed training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and then was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texts, from November 2017 to June 2019.
His family is in South Carolina, and Federico said he has not real friends at Fort Riley, which has caused him to turn to his online "tribe" and engage in "chatroom nonsense."
"He's essentially a chatroom troll," Federico said.
Later, Federico added, "This is really just a young man who is spouting off online."
Federico later declined to comment on a report from South Carolina television station WPDE that when Smith was a 15-year-old student, he appeared on the "hit list" of another teenager who tried in September 2010 to blow up a high school in Socastee, South Carolina. The indictment makes no reference to that incident.
The station reported that Christian Helms, then 14, brought a gun and other weapons to the school, firing a shot at the school resource officer. Helms had also brought pipe bombs to the school in his backpack and had a list of 13 students who were his intended targets. Smith was among them.
WPDE-TV released a video interview recorded in 2011 in which they interviewed Smith and his father after Helms was sentenced to six years. The station said that Smith said he was often bullied at school because of his cleft lip.
His father, Chris Smith, told the station that the teenager who targeted his son idolized the two killers in the Columbine high school attack in 1999.
Associated Press writer Roxana Hegeman contributed to this report from Wichita, Kansas.